Negotiating With God

Then Abraham said, “Lord, please don’t be angry with me, but let me bother you this one last time. If you find ten good people there, what will you do?” The Lord said, “If I find ten good people in the city, I will not destroy it.” The Lord finished speaking to Abraham and left. Then Abraham went back home. Genesis18:32-33ERV

Abraham’s negotiations with God didn’t end well for the patriarch. He had been hoping to run God down to one, therefore saving Sodom and Gomorrah from disaster. Abraham must have thought he was onto a good thing, after all he started this ‘deal’ with God at fifty good people and got all the way down to ten! The arrogance that Abraham showed was breathtaking, and we can’t get our heads round it in our day and age. We wouldn’t try that today, would we? Our generation has more sense, right? A good Christian bargain with God? Never!

Wrong. Let’s think: As a parent, your shy child has a birthday party, so you pray for all her friends to come along although you know she is not the most popular girl in her class. You earnestly pray for 20 but you need to drop the number to a more realistic 10. You need £500 for your two teenagers to have a church camp holiday, but you pray again and settle for £100 because that will do. Our local church needs 10 new members and you pray accordingly, but after a while you settle for 5 because that will do. Or lastly, we desperately need several folks from church to visit the sick or make a phone call, but when God doesn’t seem to respond, we settle for just a few because that might do. In fact, we will take anyone, that’s any one person who cares enough to show Christian love and interest for that person who hasn’t made it out for some weeks, now that would be a start. Lord, are you listening?

So, yes we do bargain with God, and we do it often. More often than not, we set the bar at the level we think would hopefully be possible to satisfy our own desires, and not God’s plan. But God is gracious and will answer even our downscaled request. The real problem (at least for me)  is when we pray for some friends to come, but no one does. Not a reduced number as in the case with Abraham, but none. Nada. Zilch. Nihil. But wait, the story isn’t over yet because some good people did respond to the prayer, and in the number you had initially hoped for, so what’s the problem? Simply put, God answered through the unexpected arrival and visits (plural for good measure) of friends from another body of believers whom you now respect even more than you did before. Now what do you do? Stay in the same uncaring group, or recognise that God chose to use that other prayer sensitive, caring church group, recognising where the answer to prayer finally came from, and determine to experience more of their church fellowship? Tough call! Or is it??

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Embarrassment

Have you been embarrassed recently? I mean, seriously embarrassed? I suggest that we have all suffered this indignity at some point in our lives, and survived, but it was probably a painful time. The experience is a two way street, because we can either be the source of embarrassment to others, or on the receiving end from someone who perhaps didn’t mean to cause offence. And let’s face it, in both situations embarrassment can cause offence.

There is a third way where we can be embarrassed on behalf of someone else who may, or may not, be aware of your thoughts or feelings as you try to defend them. I would suggest that this feeling on behalf of another, is the hardest type to bear. Ok, I hear you ask for an example of this third kind.

Imagine you have been an integral part of a well run medical or sports team, and you have been in that position for some years before sickness struck and you could no longer hold your position for a short time. So far so good, and I can hear you now say, well, so what? That’s life! But it’s not over yet. Keep your imagination motor running. That group of people are an important part of your life, and you don’t like to hear anyone bad-mouth them, even if it was not meant to be offensive or hurtful!

That protective attitude remains with you, even though very few (if anyone!) from your team either visits or calls, to see how you are doing. That is bad enough, and it hurts, but it really pains when someone else on the sideline asks you directly if your doctor, nurse, or coach has visited, phoned, or been in touch? It is obviously embarrassing as you try to defend them. How do you defend the indefensible after some weeks of a time lapse?

In a similar way could this be one of the reasons that we also lose some good folks from our churches? In other words, we (and I include myself in this) don’t care enough when it really matters to that hurting member? Added to that, there is a clear interest from members of another church group who really are concerned, and let you know it. Would that be enough to make you change your present team, or even your church? Ouch!

Tangled Webs

Walter Scott Quoted: O, what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive!

In many ways deceiving someone is worse than telling them a lie. A lie can be a short, even  simple deviation from truth, and as long as you have a good memory, you can get away with it for a long time before being found out. Deceit however takes effort and time to build up a new and different picture which might have a basis of truth, but that kernel of truth is coated in another layer of deceit, and so it goes on with every part of the tangled web we try to weave. Let’s face it, we all know at least one person who is adept at this deliberate attempt to make themselves look better by trying to rewrite the truth to suit their own needs.

The child of God doesn’t need to fall into webs of deceit anyway, so why bring this subject up? Well, you could be forgiven for thinking the Christian is exempt, but think again. Are you always up front and clear in your speech to others? Sometimes we don’t want to tell that nice church steward how you really feel when they ask how you are doing, and that might be because you don’t have time to go into it. Or the subject is personal. Or just maybe you feel it’s none of their business. In any event what we say (yes, I do it too) can sometimes bear no resemblance to what we really feel or think. I agree that this example is not a particularly good one, and not very serious in anyone’s thinking.

Let your mind wander for a minute. No one wants to look bad to their family and friends. That’s human nature I believe, but that bit of our nature opens the door to more serious forms of deceit. The guy in church who always has it together, you know, the one who is the life of any group and knows and quotes his Bible sincerely? Is it possible that he is spinning a web of deceit, but all for good reason of course? Could he be hiding a broken relationship, marriage, or heart? It may be better for him to rise above his feelings when among friends. After all, nobody likes a moaner-groaner!

Then what about the well dressed lady who is always depressed and down, and first to tell you how bad things really are when you ask how she is doing, and she can go on a bit? Is it likely or probable that she is spinning her own web of deceit because she lost her husband just over a year ago, and doesn’t want her friends to know that she is really relieved because he was not good to her. It would look all wrong to her friends if she looked too upbeat when she should still be in mourning.

These are two very short and unlikely examples, but not impossible to understand. Now take a step back and look at yourself in the mirror. Is the person you see there, the same person that everyone else sees and knows? No, I thought not. Me neither!

Them!

[ The Golden Rule ] “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets. Matthew7:12NLT

It can easily come down to a choice of ‘them’ or ‘us’ when we try to figure out where society stands on various things, but it is most obvious when we talk about ethical, or moral, and certainly faith and religious beliefs. You know how it goes. We believe this, but they believe that. They interpret the Bible that way, but we know better because we interpret it this way. See where I am coming from? Perhaps you have encountered it yourself?

If each of us treated others just the same way we would want to be treated, this would be a better world. The importance of how we deal with those who disagree with us on religious beliefs and faith cannot be overstated. If we want to be Christ-Like, there should be no finger waving or pointing. Did you or I come into the Kingdom, or see the way ahead by being shouted at, or vehemently disagreed with? Certainly not. To put it into old fashioned language, we were woo’d, softly, gently, but with the determination of a loving God. We should do the same to others.

The phrase by Mrs “Do as you would be done by” is as true now as it ever was when introduced by “The Water Babies”, and much better than her counterpart, Mrs “Be done by as you did”. The secular world recognises who they prefer, and it follows that this Golden Rule spoken by Jesus is just what we ALL need, whether IN the church or OUT. This is as much a word of challenge for me as for anyone else.

Cheers?

I had the radio on for the local news, and that was followed by a phone-in talk show. The primary subject in each program was the same. At least on the surface. Scotland has two serious medical problems in general, and they are childhood obesity, and excessive alcohol consumption. Do I need to remind you that we are just into a new year, ushered in by the party season?

The news carried the stories of families torn apart by the abuse of alcohol, usually as a result of a party. Our hospitals have to take on extra staff for A&E because they know there will be a spike in injuries, like broken bones, lacerations from knife wounds, aggression, a wife or partner bloodied by a slap or a punch causing a broken nose or jaw, and sadly children who are in fear of their dad or mum abusing them, or having been abused in some way. All of these situations are well documented on open source. The bottom line is that many people cannot be relied on to drink responsibly, but that is the slogan put out by the alcoholic drinks companies. Is there anything more laughable, embarrassing, and showing them to be the hypocrites they are?

On one hand we are advised to be sensible and responsible in the consumption of alcohol, knowing all of the dangers and risks. But on the other hand these same people change almost as soon as that first drink hits their system, and everyone suffers as a result, including themselves. It is too much to ask the drinks industry to talk the truth about the problems their products cause. Doing that would reduce their business, and all their shareholders would lose lots of money. We can’t have that now, can we? This brings me to the crux of the matter. Money. Plain and simple. So, while speaking platitudes to the consumers, they will continue to sell alcohol to whoever will buy it including the young, addicted, and vulnerable. The likelihood of any probable health benefit is a secondary consideration to profit. I don’t expect things to change anytime soon!

Angels

See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their Angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven. Matthew18:10NIV

For it is written: ‘“He will command his Angels concerning you to guard you carefully” Luke4:10NIV

It is said that we all have an Angel looking over us, and that every child has their own guardian Angel, and these verses would back that up. That being true, do you know who your guardian Angel is? Or is your Angel always in the background, their presence unseen?

The devil is real, and even he didn’t need to be convinced that there are Angels, guarding us carefully. He quoted the words of the Old Testament to tempt Jesus when He was exhausted, having been in the wilderness. In an almost sarcastic tone he uttered the words of Luke 4:10 to see if this temptation of throwing Himself from a high place would work. Thankfully it didn’t. Have you ever noticed that the words of Scripture are used by those who believe, and even those who don’t believe? We must be careful how we read and use the Word of God, because it is often used and abused by those who don’t care.  

We can see that we have an Angel by our side from childhood, into adulthood and eternity where we will join in the praise around the throne. There is comfort in the sure and certain knowledge that God has not only provided His Holy Spirit to guide and convict, He has also provided an Angel, or perhaps even more than one, to guard us carefully. With these heavenly benefits, why would some people not want to have this protection in this life?

Human nature kicks in, and wants its own way, no matter how good any offer can be, so we are entitled to refuse. That is another gift from God, called free will. We are not robots, and our gracious God allows us to accept or reject His gifts. Sadly we think we know better than God, how sad is that?

I am happy to accept God’s gifts, including the Angels He provides for my benefit. Have you ever wondered what these Angels look like? I certainly have, and I believe I have the answer. Angels look just like you and me. When there is a need, or an impending danger looming, God will place someone right there at that time, and in that place to provide the need or avert the danger. I’m sure you have experienced this first hand, and often. The face of that help, I suggest, is your Angel for that time and place. Oh, and by the way, it works both ways. You may well be someone else’s Angel. Perhaps without knowing it, but in the heart and mind of the person you helped, you are, and always will be, their Angel.

So, who is the face of your Angel? I would be surprised if you couldn’t name a few!  

Closer!

Yes, after some time thinking over many things that have happened recently, I find myself closer than before. The thoughts that had previously passed through my mind before now were not the only reason, and are but a small part of my journey. I don’t know if I will hurt anyone, I hope not, as this was never my intention. And anyway, this might not get past the thought process, or be a permanent or final situation.

What could be so important to me that would cause such heart and thought wrenching? Let me ask you, what kind of situation generally speaking, would cause you most grief? For me, that would be family whether direct or indirect, including my chosen church family. In each case, we are close, and in each case I would never want to hurt anyone at any level. But that may not be possible.

Having been an active part of my church for over 55 years, it does not come easy to switch allegiance. But what would make me do this, let alone consider it? If I am being open and honest, there are a few and enough to list. Some small and incidental, and sadly some which are bigger, and ones I have tried to ignore. Some at my General church level, and others at a local church level. Funnily enough it’s not usually the big issues that cause most trouble, it’s the annoying niggles that won’t go away, and that itch which needs to be scratched.

Just for the record, I am fully aware that no church is perfect. That said, there are some less imperfect than others, also those that would possibly differ in theology, doctrine, or more likely the (non) practice of their stated beliefs. Since God looks on the heart, He will look beyond the outer appearance of any church or person, but more importantly see the motivation of each heart.

The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. 1Samuel16:7NLT

However it is equally important to balance that truth with the verse which tells us that it’s also  what is in the heart, that comes out in our actions. (There may be little in the heart to come out in our actions!)

For as he thinks in his heart, so is he. Proverbs23:7NKJV